Since Matthew Slater joined the New England Patriots in 2008, they’ve won no fewer than 10 games each season. They’ve made the playoffs every year except for his rookie season, when they became just the second 11-5 team in NFL history to miss the postseason. The Patriots have made five Super Bowl appearances with Slater on their roster, winning three championships.
No one’s suggesting Slater is the only one to credit for such sustained success; a quarterback by the name of Tom Brady certainly had a hand as well. But Slater has certainly been one of the key leaders in the organization since he joined. The 2020 season, his 13th in the NFL, marks his 10th as a team captain. He’s been named to the Pro Bowl eight times.
What’s most incredible is that he’s experienced such success on the special teams. He’s not an offensive or defensive star, nor is he the biggest or fastest on the team. But he’s a hard worker who’s been equipped by God to be a leader.
“I know I’m on the most improbable journey that anyone could ever be on in football,” Slater said Wednesday on the Sports Spectrum Football Special. “I know that God is ordering my steps, and He’s decided this for me so that I could glorify and lift up His name.”
All that team success, however, it taking a hit this season. Brady is now in Tampa Bay, and the 6-7 Patriots are on the verge of their first losing season since 2000. They’re likely to miss the playoffs for the first time since that 2008 season, and likely to fall short of double-digit wins for the first time since 2002.
Those on-field struggles have been added to all the other obstacles that have come from a worldwide pandemic. As a result, Slater has been challenged in new ways this year.
“I think for me over the course of my career, I’ve had it easy,” he said. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of success here, and leading in times of success is much easier than leading in times of struggle. It’s easier to get guys to buy in. It’s easier for me to be in a better mood and have joy constantly.
“You get in a situation where you deal with adversity, and the Bible teaches us that God uses adversity to grow our character, and to grow our dependence on Him. It’s one thing to know that and understand that at a text level. I read the text, I read James 1, I read Romans 5, I understand that trials are for my benefit. But then it’s a different thing to actually be in a trial, to be experiencing a life trial with brothers that you’ve worked with for a lot of years.”
As Slater is growing in these trials, he says he’s been shown there was a “bit of shallowness” to some of the ways he’s led his teammates.
“It’s been eye-opening for me to just see some sin in my life as far as leadership areas that I can improve, and ultimately how I need to be more reliant on the Lord in that leadership capacity,” he said. “It’s one thing to take lessons I think He wants me to have, as opposed to listening to what He’s trying to tell me, and then going to act accordingly.”
One big lesson Slater learned early on is that his career in the NFL affords him an audience to share the Gospel with. He’s never taken that responsibility lightly. Since 2015, Football Sunday has been a film and resource for churches to use on Super Bowl weekend, sharing the stories of NFL players to teach and encourage thousands of people each year. And since the Patriots have appeared in four of the six Super Bowls since Football Sunday launched, Slater has been a go-to player for not only sharing his story, but encouraging teammates to take part in the film as well. Producers of the film interview athletes from both teams that advance to the Super Bowl.
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“I’ve always looked at football as the ultimate platform to tell people about the love of Christ,” he said. “And when you get to the ultimate stage where everyone is watching, everyone’s interested in what you have to say, it’s presented me with a lot of great opportunities to have discussions about the Gospel. And ultimately I know what happens on a football field is going to fade away like that, it’s a vapor. But the decision we make in terms of what we’re doing with who the person of Jesus is, and what the Bible says about Him, and what that means for our eternity, that message needs to be broadcasted as loud and as clearly as possible.
“And thankfully, through Football Sunday and appearing in the Super Bowl as much as I have, I’ve been able to do that.”
Slater knows he is evidence of the Lord taking ordinary people and making extraordinary stories with their lives.
“Everyone’s captivated by our stories as professional athletes — our journeys, our careers, what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “But it’s about the Author, the God of the universe who decided that this would be a good idea so that we could bring Him more glory.”
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